Gender shaming in gaming needs to stop.
I can already feel your eyeballs roll to the back of your head when reading this headline. I don’t blame you, the topic of girls in video games has been flashed across every website you encounter. But the reason for this? Because as the industry moves forward in games and they develop characters of all genders, races, and orientations, it seems the community surrounding games are still clinging to those nasty old habits. The gaming industry has made incredible strides in the past few years, finally recognizing that women can be more than just support for the male protagonists in games. They have whole games centered around them now! The one that comes first to my mind is Horizon: Zero Dawn. The whole game is centered around a female hunter and archer, Aloy. This is a triple A, critically acclaimed game that features a strong female lead. Other critically acclaimed RPG games with established characters, like The Witcher III, feature men as your protagonist. I’m hoping that Horizon: Zero Dawn fills the void and creates an equal counterpart.
Women all over the world are logging onto their preferred platforms for another day of great gaming. While most are joining games like Rocket League with friends or checking on their beloved Pokémon, there are still a lot of women opening up messages that are carefully constructed to tear the down and chase them away from the club. “But Laura,” you’re thinking, while trying to unstick your eyes from the back of your head, “there’s going to be terrible people in every community! Terrible people are everywhere!” Yes, they are. And more often than not, those are the most outspoken in any community and the ones who have a larger impact than you’d expect. The vocal minority normally outweighs the silent majority. This is still an issue because it is not only men behind the voice, it’s other women, too. Instead of having an ally when these issues occur, some women experience a shaming and shunning by their gender. It’s known as the cool girl syndrome that is so prevalent in this community. These women claim that they are not like other women simply so the men who accept them don’t label them as attention seeking for stating they’re a woman who enjoys video games. They need to align themselves with the idea that women can’t possibly play video games unless they’re one of the boys.
Again, I can already hear your rebuttal before it forms on your tongue, because I’ve had the same thought before; No one actually cares if you’re a girl and play video games. Most gamers are not going to maliciously call you out because your body is different. But you’re missing the entire point. The vocal minority is a dangerous thing. This has been proven time and time again throughout history, including the position of women in the sexual revolution in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The people who have these ideas will continue to be unchallenged until the silent majority speaks louder.
It’s not uncommon for women, and even girls, today to stay quiet about their enjoyment of video games. There are countless threads across the internet posted by girls looking for other girls to play games with that have been downvoted into oblivion. The comments are, predictably, full of trolls, sexist comments, and dismissive jokes. The women who originally posted the threads are told they are attention seeking for even creating a thread that indicates that they are women. But what’s worse are the comments from other women–ones stating that attention-seeking girls are the worst, and they are nothing like them. These comments only solidify the idea that video games are for boys only and the few girls they choose to allow. I can’t help but think of Tina Fey’s magnificent line in Mean Girls, “Well, I don’t know who wrote this book, but you all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it ok for guys to call you sluts and whores.” It’s girl on girl hate, and it needs to stop.
I came across a few reddit threads and other forums full of women asking similar questions; why all the girl on girl hate? Why do I feel the need to hide my love of video games? Some of the women shared stories of reaching out and being met with hostility. Many users in the reddit thread recounted stories of their own, either being on the receiving end or dishing out the insults. Fortunately, these women came to realize that standing together was better than being the special snowflake, cool girl in a guys’ only club. But a comment made by -Cubone- really hit it home for me, “I bought a copy of one of the newer Animal Crossing games as a gift for a (male) friend, and that girl actually had the gaul to say ‘Oh yeah, this is more your speed’ after I had bought all sorts of FPS in the past few years, I do love some AC but that is not ‘my speed’ my K/D is one of my most proud accomplishments because I got into PVP only somewhat recently so bunked it pretty hard at first, I am a extremely dedicated gamer and often times play far longer/more intensely than my gamer husband…What on Earth would possess the girl hate in this world by other girls?”
All of these negative comments and horror stories floating around the internet confirm some women’s ideas that it’s better to just stay silent about their gender and ignore the whole thing. This practice has even trickled down into the younger generation. According to this article from Slate.com, more girls (ages 13 to 17) stay quiet about video games than join the community. The author reasons that they do so out of fear of being scrutinized on their abilities. They’re under constant watch when enjoying games because until recently, video games have a been a “boy’s hobby.” The author acknowledges their decision to stay silent, but also notes that their silence is detrimental to the community, “No one should blame women and girls for choosing to play games in a way that renders them invisible to the larger gaming community, but an unfortunate side effect of this is that many guys who play are under the impression that it’s a male hobby. The result is that women who do turn on their mics are often accused of being ‘fake geek girls’ who are only doing it for male attention.” To be honest, it definitely makes me want to throw my headset into a fire. I don’t blame these women and girls who would rather hide in the shadows than subject themselves to unwarranted challenges either. Even I haven’t figured out a way to escape the endless tests when stating that Mass Effect is my favorite series.
So these girls turn to the safety of being “one of the guys.” They choose to denounce their gender and support the misogynistic, snarky comments found in those aforementioned threads. One online author, Alexia LaFata from Elite Daily, brings to light the negative impact these ideas have. “…if we have women out there who are saying such generalizing ‘I hate girls!’ statements, how can we expect guys to respect us? How can we expect guys to respect us when even we can’t respect us? You never hear guys say, ‘I hate guys.’ They’d never.” This all leads back to my original statement, that women need to support other women in this community. Hell yes, it’s annoying, and sometimes scary–when we’re faced with being the vocal minority. We need allies to combat that. We need the support of the men in the silent majority. Once we start taking a bigger stand and support each other rather than join in with these types of heckling, we will move forward in parallel with the trend happening in the gaming industry.